BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: The secret to a long, healthy life? ‘You gotta laugh’

Name: Phyllis Smith 

Age: 81

Place of birth: Passaic, New Jersey

What is your fondest childhood memory? Working and playing in my father’s bowling alley in Clifton, New Jersey. I was in the bowling alley from the time I was little… playing, then working and bowling.

How long have you lived in Marblehead? 52 years

What jobs have you had and what was your favorite? I was a teacher for many many years and I just loved it. I taught in Marblehead at the old Bell School, mostly third grade. I love third-grade kids. I just think they are the best. Third grade is when they really become readers and start to think. I also used to take my own interests and have the kids learn through those. In those days you could do that. I’m enthralled with penguins. I had a penguin unit. It was amazing to see how the kids learned everything they needed to learn, but they learned it through penguins. I did the same thing with wolves and rainforests. I miss those days.

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the world? For sure, the internet. It changed everything. It’s just incredible. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes.

What is your biggest accomplishment? Well, of course,my family. My kids are fabulous and my grandkids are fabulous and I’m so happy they’ve become the people they are. And teaching. When you meet students on the street and they remember you and things they learned in your class. It’s an amazing profession. You have such an impact.

Who is the most famous person you’ve met? I have to say [TV show host and media mogul] Merv Griffin. He lived in our town and we socialized with him. He was a singer back then. He had this hit song, “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.” He was just entertaining the idea of starting a game show where you gave people the answers and they guessed the questions. Of course, that became “Jeopardy.” The rest is history.

What moment in history is most vivid in your memory? I think the assassination of Kennedy. I was young, I was teaching. Of course, 911. That was horrible. I was teaching then, too.

What piece of advice do you have for young people today? Be kind and let other people live their lives. Don’t be judgemental. We’re in a really difficult time when people are so sure that they’re right about things. I hope we come around to be a more kind, thoughtful nation.

What are your secrets to living a long life?  You gotta laugh. I married a very funny man. That took us a long way.

A self-professed “Jersey girl,” Smith says she loves Marblehead and serves on the Board of the Council on Aging and the Abbot Public Library Foundation. She also works with MHTV. 

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Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.

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